Ga. Christian Coalition calling for Chip Rogers to resign post

by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:

ATLANTA - The head of the Georgia Christian Coalition is now calling for the senate majority leader to resign his post after Channel 2 Action News exposed a video tying Sen. Chip Rogers to the world of sports gambling.

"I don't want him making a decision regarding gambling and the passage of gambling or the spreading of information about gambling in the Senate, because I felt from what you'd written that he was just too close to it," said Georgia Christian Coalition President Jerry Luquire.

The coalition has about 8,000 supporters on its roster. Luquire says he deliberately did not send out his call for resignation so as not to influence Rogers' upcoming primary election in July.

"We would not want to do anything for his constituency to think we're telling them how to vote. Our only concern is to get him out of leadership in the senate," said Luquire.

A Channel 2 Action News investigation uncovered details about Rogers' job before politics -- selling information gamblers could use to bet on sports games.

"My friends, if you want to win and you want to win big, I've got information about all of my lineups for today," Rogers said on a television show in 2000.

When the videos first surfaced last Friday, Rogers told investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer he was not a sports handicapper and did not make his own picks.

"No, the company who hired me gave me a script, and I would read from the script or use the script as the basic outline of what I'm supposed to say," said Rogers, adding, "I was hired to play a part on a TV show."

The show's announcer in a 1999 episode introduced Rogers saying, "Let's go to our next panelist, Will Rogers. He's been a handicapper for decades."

On the how, Rogers said, "My friends, Will Rogers with you, and what a weekend we have in store for everybody. Myself and my staff have analyzed all 57 games on this week's schedule."

Rogers says he would routinely fly to Las Vegas to record the television shows and announce the predicted winners for each game -- a practice gamblers commonly use to determine which teams to bet on.

"It's no different than what you see right now, today, on all sorts of NFL pregame shows where people sit around and talk about who's going to win the game and by how much are they going to win," Rogers said.

But the videos show Rogers, whose moniker was 'Will the Winner,' announcing his picks as a 900 number flashed on the screen, urging viewers to call and buy additional picks.

In one introduction, the announcer says, "He is just off his best NFL season ever, and he is going to start off red hot this weekend for all of you callers."

The show even guaranteed 80 percent of the picks would win, or the caller would get free picks next time. Rogers says he wasn't promoting gambling, even though at least one offshore casino sponsored the show.

"Handicapping and gambling are two totally different things," Rogers said.

Fleischer asked, "Why would somebody go and spend money on those picks if not to gamble with it?"

Rogers replied, "If that's what they decided to do, that's their choice."

He added, "It's not my role to determine what people use the information for. I was simply there to read a script. What they did with the information had nothing to do with me."

Rogers says his contract was with a Birmingham company called OTM Sports. It's owner, Mike Lorino, spoke about the betting world a few years back, with expertise on local bookies and offshore websites.

When Fleischer called Lorino to ask about the work Rogers did for him, he didn't answer or return messages.

The next day, Rogers sent a statement on Lorino's behalf. It read, "Any agreement our company had with Rogers Broadcasting for television and voiceover duties was satisfactorily completed and came to an end many years ago."

Rogers says OTM created his Will 'The Winner' Rogers persona, which was listed on the NCAA website as a sports handicapper as recently as 2005. That site reminded staff they "shall not knowingly provide information to individuals involved in organized gambling activities."

Rogers claims he is not the same "Will Rogers, sports handicapper" who authored an online article about sports gambling, which says, in part, "For my money, Oasis Sportsbook is the place to call."

The television show Rogers was on was coincidentally sponsored by the same casino, Oasis Sportsbook.

"I have no idea who the sponsors were," Rogers told Fleischer.

One of the 900-numbers on the show listed an address on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, which matched a business called Sports Promotion Inc. run by renowned handicapper John Edens.

"You knew his name was 'Johnny DeMarco' as a handicapper?" Fleischer asked Rogers.

He replied, "Yeah, I've known him since I was 18 years old."

In 1992, Edens settled a civil racketeering case with AT&T stemming from his unpaid phone bills under fake names.

In court records, he said, "Chip Rogers works for me on a part-time basis, William Rogers."

A fellow employee said in a separate deposition, "I think he (Rogers) does a 900 line for the Atlanta Assassin," adding that he "picks games and predictions of who is going to win."

At the time, Chip Rogers was not a senator, but a recent college graduate. So Edens and his employee would appear to have had no reason to embellish the job Rogers had. Yet both contradicted statements Rogers made to Channel 2.

A Rogers spokesman says both depositions are incorrect; that Rogers never worked for Edens or a 900 line, never made picks himself and never used the name Atlanta Assassin.

"When you read evidence, it requires you to make a judgment, and it's difficult to believe everything he said is true," said Luquire.

The Rogers-Edens connection resurfaced last year with the transfer of a run-down motel in Gordon County and its debt.

"You essentially gave him the motel?" Fleischer asked Rogers.

"No, I wouldn't say that. We had a contract drawn up by an attorney," Rogers replied.

Rogers says he was just helping his longtime friend by allowing him to move into the Oglethorpe Inn and manage it. The motel has since been gutted and is facing foreclosure.

"I sold my interest to him for a future payment at a later date," said Rogers.

Fleischer asked how much Edens paid.

"I cannot discuss any private contractual agreements," answered Rogers.

Edens had previously filed bankruptcy and last year pleaded guilty to forgery in Forsyth County. He was also arrested for theft in Fulton County, but prosecutors later dropped those charges.

"Seeing the holes in that story kind of raised some questions with me, and I saw this big gap with John Edens, the guy who the hotel was sold to, and just questions raised in my mind. 'This is such a bad  investment. Why would Edens be willing to take this over?'" said David Michaels, a recent Emory University graduate who spent two semesters digging into Rogers' past.

The investigative reporting student began his research for a class assignment after the financial deal involving Rogers' dilapidated motel garnered news coverage last year.

Michaels also uncovered internet rumors which tied Rogers to the handicapping industry and set out to find another link to Edens. Months of interviews led him to the videos and court records showing ties to handicapping.

"It has nothing to do with anything impacting people's lives today. You're talking about a TV show I was on 15 years ago. I wasn't in that industry. I was in the broadcasting industry," Rogers said.

"If he's promoting the behavior, I think that's still public interest," said Michaels.

Rogers says he believes this exposure is coming from his political opponents, and he trusts his constituents will look at his record over the last 10 years and judge him based on how he's governed, not the job he had before he went into politics.

"At the time, I had no problem with it whatsoever. If people want to go back and watch the show right now, if they have a problem with it, that's up to them," said Rogers.